TALLINN (Reuters) - British Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson said on Monday that the world was united behind Britain’s stance over the poisoning of a former Russian spy and that patience was wearing thin with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Britain has blamed Russia for the attack on Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia with a military-grade Soviet-era nerve agent on March 4, winning the support of NATO and European leaders.
The Kremlin has denied any involvement and says Britain is orchestrating an anti-Russia campaign.
During a visit to Estonia, Williamson said the backing for Britain was in “itself a defeat for President Putin”.
“The world’s patience is rather wearing thin with President Putin and his actions, and the fact that right across the NATO alliance, right across the European Union, nations have stood up in support of the United Kingdom ... I actually think that is the very best response that we could have,” he told reporters.
“Their (the Kremlin’s) intention, their aim is to divide and what we are seeing is the world uniting behind the British stance and that in itself is a great victory and sends an exceptionally powerful message to the Kremlin and President Putin.”
European Union member states agreed on Friday to take additional punitive measures against Russia over the attack on Skripal, found slumped on a bench with his daughter in the southern English city of Salisbury.
U.S. President Donald Trump is also considering the expulsion of some Russian diplomats, a source familiar with the situation said on Sunday.
Williamson also said he was surprised and disappointed by reports about European Union proposals to freeze Britain out of the Galileo satellite navigation project as part of negotiations over Britain’s exit from the bloc next year.
The Financial Times newspaper reported that the EU was looking to lock Britain’s space industry out of the 10 billion euro programme to protect its security after Britain leaves the bloc next year.
“The United Kingdom has been absolutely clear that we do not want to bring the defence and security of Europe into part of the negotiations because we think it is absolutely vital,” Williamson said.
“So I very mush hope that the European Union commission will take the opportunity to see sense, re-calibrate its position and not play politics on something that is so vitally important which is European defence and security.”
Reporting by David Marditste; writing by Michael Holden; editing by Guy Faulconbridge